‘Real risk’ of polio reaching Bulgaria from Syria – chief health inspector

There is a real risk that polio could reach Bulgaria because of the growing refugee pressure from Syria, chief health inspector Dr Angel Kounchev told local media on November 7 2013.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on October 29 that there were10 cases of polio in conflict-stricken Syria, adding that health authorities in the country and neighbouring nations have already begun a comprehensive response to the outbreak.

WHO Communications Officer Oliver Rosenbauer said that out of 22 reported cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), 10 had been confirmed as being the result of Wild Polio Virus Type 1. The remaining 12 cases were still being investigated, the UN News Centre said.

The cases were initially reported on October 17 in the Deir Al Zour province in the north-east region of Syria. Because of the protracted conflict, which has displaced millions, Syria had already been considered at high-risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. However, the country has not experienced a case of polio since 1999 .

Polio, whose virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine attacking the nervous system, is highly infectious and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.

Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis and among those paralysed, five to 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.

The government, helped by the UN and other agencies, is stepping up what was a planned immunisation campaign to vaccinate against polio as well as other diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella. Syria’s neighbours are now doing the same, the BBC reported.

Kounchev said that immunisation against polio was part of the Bulgarian immunisation calendar.

He said that currently there were no cases in the country but the risks included the fact that few children in Roma neighbourhoods were immunised.

A month ago, all children up to the age of 15 years in refugee centres were immunised, but supplies of the vaccine now were needed.

Risk could arise if the disease found a non-immunised carrier.

He said that health authorities were worried by the numbers of people in facilities such as Voenna Rampa in Sofia, Harmanli and Pastrogor. Efforts were being made to improve the living conditions of refugees but conditions still were not good.

Kounchev said that there had been two cases of hepatitis, one in Elhovo, near Bulgaria’s border with Turkey, a month ago, and now one in Harmanli.

On November 7, Bulgarian Defence Minister Angel Naidenov said that between 100 and 200 refugees entered Bulgaria daily, and 3500 had done so in October 2013 alone.

Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said on November 7 that “we have a serious problem” not only regarding the refugees but also that the wave of migration was continuing.

It emerged that there was an illegal channel transporting refugees from the Pastrogor centre to Sofia.

One of those who had used the channel was the mother of the 17-year-old Syrian refugee who was stabbed by two Bulgarian-speakers earlier this week. She had given $700 to use this illegal network.

Yovchev said that he would take action against the scheme.

He said that one of the measures that had been adopted to reduce the refugee problem was a request to the State Agency for Refugees to reduce the time taken to process refugee status applications from six months to three days.

From November 11, more than 1000 police would be deployed along the border with Turkey in two-week rotations to prevent illegal border crossings.

But Yovchev said that there had been cases where children were thrown across the border.

(Archive photo of a Somali child receiving a polio vaccination: US defense department)




The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to sofiaglobe.com's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage. https://www.patreon.com/user?u=32709292